Passage to India


POOJA INDIAN GRILL 1223 Merkley Ave., West Sacramento; (916) 375-8907; 

Located in a strip mall, West Sacramento’s Pooja Indian Grill packs ’em in: There was a small crowd waiting for the door to open on a recent Saturday. Once inside, my lunch pal and I were blown away by not only how spacious and serene the place was, but by the enormous selection at the buffet table. This one came in barely under budget at $9.99. 

THE AMBIANCE: Low key and lovely, with lots of comfy booths and soft lighting 

THE GRUB: Tons of choices, including standard Indian fare (chicken curry, saag paneer, chana masala, tandoori chicken, butter chicken, vegetable pakoras), goat and lamb curries, a salad bar with greens and fresh fruit, and the usual display of sauces (tamarind, mint, mango, cucumber/yogurt). Fresh, chewy naan is served at each table, too. 

BEST DISHES: Fried delights were handled with expert care: Aloo pakora (basically potato fritters) was a real treat, as was the fat, fluffy fish pakora. 

EXTRA POINTS FOR: Dessert is given the star treatment here, with four selections including rice pudding and—are you sitting down?—mango soft-serve ice cream. Hot chai tea is on tap, too. 

DOLLAR-WISE TIP: Don’t be put off (as we almost were) by the dingy surroundings and the Cigarettes & More store next door. Once inside, you’ll be transported to another world (and a tranquil one, too). 

MEHFIL INDIAN RESTAURANT 1605 Douglas Blvd., Roseville; (916) 791-1199; 

Another strip mall gem, located right off the I-80 Douglas Boulevard exit, Mehfil is an easy destination for both Rosevillians (is that a word?) and those driving in from Sacramento. It is well worth the trek: This is one spectacular lunch buffet—a steal at $8.99. It’s also popular: On a recent Sunday around noontime, the place was continuously packed. When you read the rest of this review, you’ll know why. 

THE AMBIANCE: Casual and colorful, accented with eye-catching wall art and Bollywood on TVs 

THE GRUB: A huge selection, including a small salad bar, chicken and lamb curries, butter chicken, chana masala, vegetable biryani, vegetable korma, vegetable pakoras and much more. Two desserts—gulab jamun (donutlike fried milk balls swimming in a sweet syrup) and gajar halwa (carrot pudding)—and hot, milky chai tea were part of the spread, too. 

BEST DISHES: I was partial to the tender tandoori chicken and the vegetable samosas, those delectable fried pastries filled with potatoes, peas and zippy spices. The boyfriend went gaga over the goat (yes, goat) curry. 

EXTRA POINTS FOR: Fantastic chutneys and sauces—mint, onion, tamarind and mango—and the basket of fresh, piping hot naan on every table. Servers were unusually helpful and polite, too. 

DOLLAR-WISE TIP: You can shave $1 off the lunch buffet by printing out a coupon from the restaurant’s website.